August 31, 2021Published by: Rhea Mathew

The only one in the room – reflections on diversity and inclusion

Have you ever felt like you are ‘the only one in the room’? The only person who looks and sounds like you? If so, how did it make you feel? I know from experience it can be anxiety-inducing and hugely challenging. But I also think there’s an opportunity to turn these negative feelings into something powerful. 

I’m a South Asian Indian millennial woman, and a few years ago I was the only one in a room filled with people who didn’t look, talk or act like me. I felt like no one was paying attention to what I had to say because I wasn’t one of them; as a result I kept questioning why I was there and simply nodded along to what was being discussed. When I eventually did have something to say, it was quickly brushed under the carpet. It was like being told: “Your voice doesn’t matter.”

I want to tell you that your voice DOES matter. Every time I have felt ignored or sidelined since, it has made me want to express myself more and be heard. Even though I felt like the only person in the room, I knew my voice was powerful enough to make an impact. So I did. That bad experience lit a fire in me. I realised that confidence will lead to great places, and it’ll make people notice you regardless of how you look or what you wear. 

I’m always reminded by something a friend told me: “Confidence is a stain that cannot be removed.” Think about who you are the next time you feel afraid or anxious to speak your mind. After all, the conversation may be missing a uniqueness only you can bring. Be authentic to who you are and build bridges to bring people into the conversation.

D&I in the workplace

There’s a lot of talk around diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, but are we doing enough? As companies bring new policies forward to increase diversity and inclusion, are these just policies, or are we also having these conversations within the team? I know there are many people, like me, who felt like the ‘only person in the room’ at a particular time. I believe it’s incumbent on us, our colleagues, and our employers to amplify these unique voices and drive for inclusivity at every workplace.

Rising to the challenge

Change is possible. I am so proud to work at Battenhall – a company that has reinforced the importance of hiring talent from around the globe. We have colleagues in the UK, US, Europe and even the Middle East (that’s me!). 

Diversity and inclusion is embedded into everything that Battenhall does, whether it’s small things or larger initiatives. We try to make those incremental steps and progress within the communications space to make it more accessible, collaborative and relevant. To support this goal, last year we launched a D&I taskforce that is filled with professionals, young and old, from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, who want to amplify internal education around different D&I topics and drive action to it. 

Our 4 key pillars are: 

  1. Educate ourselves and the wider community on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  2. Champion these topics with the wider team and actively show support for communities through social media.
  3. Recruit and help source diverse talent.
  4. Celebrate innovation in social content while also moving away from cliches.

Our ethos and manifesto tackles how we approach everything in our business, from top to bottom. In particular, for client work, our manifesto ensures diverse communities and conversations. Some of the ways in which we do this are with email newsletters that are filled with great resources and education around key D&I calendar dates. We also include a list of people from different communities who are worth following and engaging with because of their commitment to reimagining our world. 

We also run a range of profile-raising events and content streams around D&I topics, including university and non-profit collaborations. One of these involved the social network that I first connected with Battenhall on, Clubhouse. I was excited to have taken part in Battenhall’s Pride month Clubhouse event in June this year, which included members of the LGBT+ community as well as allies who encouraged conversations and raised awareness about these topics. But this is just a start; there is so much more we want to accomplish. 

The future of D&I in the workplace

Even if we look different and come from different parts of the world, we all share the same guiding principle of wanting everyone to feel included and ensure our diverse voices are amplified. My hope is that like Battenhall, there are many other companies that will embrace diverse voices as a signal of strength and bring them into the fold. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Let’s build bridges, not walls.”

I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

  1. As the traditional working model changes, what small-but-mighty steps can we take to make everyone feel included and part of the conversation?
  2. You may feel like the only person in the room, but you showed up. That’s the first step. Always show up, be true to who you are, and use your voice to make a difference. You have a voice – don’t be afraid to use it.

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